Founded in 1991, The Immokalee Foundation’s core charge is to build pathways to success for Immokalee’s children by connecting opportunity with accountability, linked by empowerment. During its history, the organization has steadily expanded its programmatic footprint, offering more services in-house in addition to its early legacy of fundraising. As a partner within Future Ready Collier, The Immokalee Foundation is in lockstep with efforts to ensure students know about, and are facilitated to access, a range of academic, career, and life choices.
Building Relationships Through Collaboration
It was the Foundation’s existing relationship with Champions For Learning that sparked the connection with Future Ready Collier. With shared populations, visions, and goals, there was a logical synergy in The Immokalee Foundation joining the Future Ready network. Principal involvement has been on the staff level. Noemi Perez, now in her second year as president and CEO, previously worked for the Foundation as the program services director, and was raised in Immokalee. Perez readily recognizes that the benefit of their participation with Future Ready Collier is multi-faceted, encompassing both programmatic and leadership engagement.
The Immokalee Foundation has been a key collaborator in executing FAFSA trainings and completion events. In alignment with Future Ready Collier’s work-based learning priorities, students are counseled about occupational opportunities, and placed with internships during high school and postsecondary schooling. The results are early but telling. The team shared an anecdote about a student who completed the Foundation’s programming, and has gone off to college with a goal to return to her hometown and open her own mental health facility. It’s people supporting people, through strategic, targeted, culturally attuned support.
Perez is grateful for the facilitation Future Ready Collier provides in establishing and supporting key relationships. In her words, “When you go out and meet someone from another organization, even if they don’t know about us they may know Future Ready Collier; they understand that, so it’s easier to trust, and there’s an instant connection.” This has certainly been of value in a COVID world, when open communication has been essential to navigate extraordinary straining circumstances. Perez believes the ability to “come together is a benefit to the entire community and county.”
The Importance of Leadership
Future Ready Collier members share The Immokalee Foundation’s dedication to the kids. In assessing Future Ready Collier’s own success, Perez is complimentary of the forerunners who have given so much time and resources, commenting, “you had leaders who believed it would work, that it was important.” This syncs with the Foundation’s creative support of young leaders, such as their inaugural Shark Tank-style entrepreneurship contest. Four area community leaders acted as judges, and students prepared their business pitches ahead of time. The experience was educational from the standpoint of helping students learn about what it takes to write a business proposal and defend it, as well as communication, teamwork, and professionalism.
As with both the students they serve and the Future Ready Collier community broadly, Perez is a strong advocate for measuring results and committing to purpose. Time is scarce, resources are always stretched, and the needs are substantial. It is critical to challenge those involved to lead with intention. The impact is undeniable. The Immokalee Foundation’s ultimate aim, through all they do, is to create a vision for students of what is possible. Doing so contributes to a more robust whole community, in line with Future Ready Collier’s own mission.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications